It's Saturday night. I'm sitting on the couch in a dark living room. Wine glasses, half full, and sushi, half eaten, sprawled across the coffee table. A movie, paused, just started, five minutes in, frozen on the tv. Big girls tucked in tight. No naps and late afternoon meltdowns made for early and easy bedtimes for them. Bonnie is screaming. Usually the easy one. I put her down at her usual bed time smoothly and soundly. Awake five minutes later. Pause the movie, abandon the dinner, nurse the baby, lay her down. Asleep. Then listen. A few minutes later? Awake again, and this time her Daddy walking her and bouncing. Trying to soothe. Walking. Singing. Bouncing. Swaying. Rocking. Talking. Our attempt at date night in slipping away as she stays unsettled and unhappy. I notice myself. Not upset or frustrated. Just waiting. Noticing this moment as I watch Jordan pace through the house. I hear her screams fade to whines and then to soft whimpers as her head falls to his shoulder. He walks back to her room. Quiet for awhile. Still. Then that great big wail. He put her down. But she wasn't ready. So we start over. I grab my computer. This is life. This is our night life. And I want to remember it.
We've been here before and we'll be here again. She's our 3rd baby in less than 4 years. We're not phased. She needs time. And attention. Not to be rushed. But loved. So that's what we'll do. It's simple. Not frustrating. We'll rock and bounce and nurse and sing and soothe. Jordan will take her for a ride if nothing else works. We'll talk it through. Analyze and speculate. She didn't nap well. Maybe she's over tired. She didn't poop. Maybe her tummy hurts. She usually sleeps in silence. Turn off the sound machine. We'll figure it out. We'll make it better. And in the living room the food sits and the wine sits and the movie sits. Until she is settled in. Content and sound and peaceful. And our time? It's still here. Different now. A little shorter. Half a movie. Call it quits. But fit in the brownie and fall into bed. Church tomorrow. Lots to do. And the morning is still so far away. There are so many turns the night could take. Wait for the two year old to run into our arms in the night. Wrap herself around us and fade into sleep. Close. Safe. Carry her back to bed. Tuck her in. Kiss her head. Like always. Up and down and in and out of sleep. It's our night life. Our rhythm.
And when we were new to this parenting thing? I worried and stressed and Googled a lot. When should they sleep? How long should they sleep? Where should they sleep? Why don't they sleep? What temperature, what bedding, what sounds will help them sleep safely and soundly. Shush. Swaddle. White Noise. No blankets. Bed time routine. Lay them down awake. Lay them down asleep. Get it all right. And when it didn't go right? When we started a movie and only watched five minutes? I felt like a failure. Why couldn’t I figure it out.
But here’s the big secret I’ve learned after a thousand nights of changing sheets and diapers and taking temperatures and nursing and rocking and putting back to bed. It’s ok. This night life? It feels out of control. Frustrating. Exhausting. It feels hard as long as I let it. But friends, my breakthrough? It came the minute I realized all the choices I was making and decided to own them. Because here’s the thing. When baby cries and I leave my meal and pause the movie and nurse her back to sleep? I am CHOOSING what to do. And what feels right for me is to go get my baby and soothe her. And when the two year old gets in our bed 5 times a night, our choice is to let her in and move her when she falls asleep. Have we researched all the psychology behind every choice we make as parents? Nope. Because at 3am when the wheels are falling off I don’t always want that kind of pressure. I want to do what feels right for me and my children so that we can make it through the night. And guess what? Babies do sleep eventually. Toddlers stop wanting to get into bed with you one day. They grow up whether we Google and stress and compare or not. So mama, if you are struggling with your night life. If you have ever Googled the Ok to Wake clock or read article after article about bed time routines or if you’ve ever cried or prayed in the middle of the night for help and stamina and sleep. I am right here with you. I have done it all. And do you know what made it better for me? Not the clock or the routines or the tears. And honestly, the prayers weren’t answered the way I begged for them to be answered. I still spend hours every night getting kids to sleep. I still get up over and over every single night. But it’s so so much better now. Just because I let it be ok. I took a hard look at the choices I was making at night time. And I decided to own those choices. So when I get up at night with a baby who doesn’t need to nurse but wants to and I let her. I remember that I am choosing to do it. And if I want to make another choice in that moment, I do. I send Jordan in or I give her two minutes to work it out on her own. I CHOOSE. And when a toddler climbs in bed and wraps herself around my head. I remember that I am choosing sleep over diligence in taking her back to bed. And then I decide if I want to make a different choice.
And owning those choices? Realizing they are mine? It’s made all the difference in my night life. Before I owned them, I suffered. Because I wanted to do it right according to the people and resources I trusted the most. And so I chose their way and I told myself it was their way. And it was so so hard. But I took what I believed the most from those trusted sources and from my own heart, and I made them mine? I created my own value system, standards, rules of engagement that I believed in and actively own every night. Then it all changed. My patience grew and my stamina strengthened and my heart found peace. My kids still don’t sleep. I’m up over and over. It’s not easy. I’m still exhausted. But now I realize that I am choosing my responses. And try as I might with every clock and chart and routine and night light and bribe and threat? I still can’t control everything my kids do. But I can control myself. I can choose. Even in the middle of the night. I can choose to be the the mom I want to be. And so it’s really alright. Because I choose to be ok. To make it. To ask for help. To do what’s right for my mama heart. To live even my night life with intention. Decision. Conviction.
So dear Mama who is fading, struggling, doubting. You can do this. You can slow down and decide how you want to show up when that baby cries or that toddler climbs in your bed or wets the bed or just won’t give up for one last story. You get to decide. And when you own whatever decision you make? When you find peace and call it yours and believe in what you’re doing? Your night life and your whole life will change.